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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/10/2011

On energy drinks, a voice of caution -- and reason

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

I don't know if you've noticed, but the world of nutrition writing and advocacy can get awfully shrill sometimes. I generally try to keep shrillness in check, but it's easy to get caught up in hysteria when talking about soda taxes, high fructose corn syrup, sodium in packaged foods and the like.

So it's awfully refreshing to read a well-reasoned, calm analysis of the risks posed by one of the current dietary bugaboos, the energy drink. In a commentary published online Jan. 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Amelia M. Arria, and Mary Claire O'Brien write convincingly about the need for the public and health professionals alike to understand the potential harms associated with those beverages, which are particularly popular among the vulnerable community of adolescent males.

The authors make the case that energy drinks, which are often consumed along with alcoholic beverages, can spur over-consumption and amplify the dangers of getting drunk. They also might contribute to alcohol dependency.

Further, because they contain so much caffeine, energy drinks can be problematic for certain populations. Pregnant women who drink too much caffeine can risk miscarriage, stillbirth and giving birth to too-small babies. Teenagers over-consuming caffeine can suffer high blood pressure and sleep disturbances.

Exacerbating the potential health risks is the fact that the FDA hasn't set a limit on the amount of caffeine energy drinks can contain, even as the agency maintains standards for how much caffeine a cola beverage can have.

I wrote about my son's affinity for energy drinks in my "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column last year. I concluded that an occasional Monster wasn't likely to do him much harm and hoped he'd eventually outgrow his desire for such beverages. He's only 14 and not yet of prime energy-drink consumption age, but I can happily tell you that the last can or two we bought him have been languishing in the fridge for weeks.

The thing I most appreciate about this JAMA editorial is its clear-headed presentation of information without an accompanying demand for government regulation. Its stance seems to be that the public (and the health professionals who advise the public) needs to be aware of the potential risks of energy drinks -- not that people shouldn't be allowed to enjoy energy drinks if they so choose. And there is, thankfully, no mention of an energy-drink tax.

If everyone were to write as lucidly about such matters, maybe the overall shrillness would come down a notch or two. And then maybe we could hear each other a bit better.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | February 10, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alcohol and Drugs, FDA, Family Health, Kids' health, Parenting, Pregnancy, Teens  
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Next: Is that right? Drinking diet soda increases stroke risk?


The hullabaloo over energy drinks is overstated. A jar of instant coffee has far more caffeine and abuse potential than energy drinks, yet you don't see anyone suggesting we ban, outlaw or regulate coffee consumption.

The greatest danger about energy drinks is that many contain HFCS - High Fructose Corn Syrup - the leading cause of obesity in America. Even a beverage as innocent sounding as Vitamin Water is loaded with HFCS.

Posted by: alance | February 10, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

We have at least one poster saying the "hullabaloo over energy drinks is overstated." I wonder if they're a doctor or have any medical training at all. My wife is an endocrinologist, but I'm no expert. Also in today's news is a story about new warnings that there could be a link between consumption of diet sodas and having strokes. The link (if any) is still being studied. I don't know if we yet know if the "hullabaloo" over energy drinks is "overstated." If you look at some of the drinks' ads, they downplay the caffeine amount and play up the vitamins (which would not seemingly lead to an energy burst).

Posted by: Sutter | February 10, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

The diet drink link could be the McAngus triple and fries that accompany the beverage-all that crap kills. Fact.

Posted by: rlmayville | February 10, 2011 8:04 PM | Report abuse

I do not use them because they are not natural drinks - they are just a bunch of ingredients put together in abnormal proportions.

Posted by: Thinker19 | February 11, 2011 7:40 AM | Report abuse

A jar of instant coffee has far more caffeine and abuse potential than energy drinks, yet you don't see anyone suggesting we ban, outlaw or regulate coffee consumption."
But who sits down and drinks a whole hjar worth of instant coffee (100-150 cups depending on jar size)

Redline Energy Drink has 500 mg in an 8oz can. That is 6 times the caffiene that the same volume of coffee has.

I was in line behind a couple of (what looked like) high school kids this morning who bought 2 cans each of this drink and one commented to the clerk "Breakfast of chanpions, right? Gotta get my vitamins"

Many energy drink makers are offering a sugar free version "for the more health conscious consumer". Liquid Lightning sugar free has over 300mg caffiene in a 12oz can (2-3 times the amount in coffee.

I am not saying ban them or anything, but the caffeine levels are in the fine print and they cover the label with all the vitamin and "health" info. Besides kids don't read lables. Perhaps make it like tobacco, must be 18 to purchase.

Posted by: schnauzer21 | February 11, 2011 8:41 AM | Report abuse

advertising,commercials for this crap and the miracle drugs that cure everything(in small print or fast talk informs one that it can cause numerous problems,including death)should be banned,as cigs and booze are. yet fools buy this stuff.go figure

Posted by: pofinpa | February 11, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

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